What is Active Release Technique (ART) and Will It Work for You?


Active release technique – ART – is a soft tissue muscle release technique used by a wide variety of manual therapists, including physical therapists. It aims to relieve tension by releasing and breaking up adhesions and scar tissue.

Active release therapy was developed over 30 years ago by a man named Dr. P. Michael Leahy. Dr. Leahy was a chiropractor working with elite athletes at the time. He developed this particular muscle release technique as a form of sports physical therapy to treat their soft tissue issues, as well as help them return to their optimal performance.

Today, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and doctors use the active release technique to treat an array of soft tissue conditions, including back pain, headaches, plantar fasciitis, bursitis, fibromyalgia, and more. In fact, ART massage therapy can be used on various tissues and body parts, such as the fascia, ligaments, tendons, and muscles.

We’re going to explore the answers to the questions that most often come up regarding ART. These include, “What is active release therapy?” “Does the active release technique work?” “When should I pursue active release treatment?” Let’s dive in!

How Does the Active Release Technique Work?

When tissue becomes aggravated or injured, adhesions may form. These adhesions consist of dense scar tissue, which is your body’s attempt at healing the problem. Yet, this scar tissue may cause other tissues to stick together. When ligaments, tendons, or muscles become stuck, movement is limited. Ultimately, this leads to discomfort and pain.


In some cases, nerves become pinched in these adhesions. The result? You experience tingling, numbness, burning, and other neural sensations.

Active release treatment releases these ‘stuck’ tissues, as well as any nerves that become trapped. As a result, this technique can be an excellent form of muscle and scar tissue release therapy that serves to reduce pain and discomfort.

What is the Active Release Technique?

When you consult with a physical therapist about your muscle or tissue discomfort, they will narrow down the area where the adhesion has formed. Using the active release technique, your therapist applies deep pressure to the adhesion. At the same time, your therapist instructs you to lengthen the affected area via movement. This is why the technique has the name ‘active’ in it: You are actively moving part of your body as part of muscle release treatment.

This movement is also an active part in unsticking the tissues. It allows the tissues to glide over each other, releasing the adhesion. Further, the active release technique increases blood flow to the area, recruiting the body’s natural healing mechanisms, reducing pain, increasing range of motion, and decreasing stiffness. In turn, an injury heals faster than it would’ve entirely on its own. With ART massage therapy, an athlete or individual is able to return to normal functioning or performance within a more reasonable timeframe.


Is Active Release Treatment Right For You?

Active release treatment could be right for you if you’re experiencing any or a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Pain when moving or exercising.
  • Stiffness in a particular body part, such as the knees, back, or neck.
  • Pain in the bottom of your foot, which may indicate plantar fasciitis.
  • Numbness or tingling in your fingers or legs and feet.
  • Limited range of motion.
  • Weakness.
  • Inflammation.

For some, muscle release therapy may make vast improvements within the first session. For others, it may take a few sessions or longer to notice a change.

If you think you may benefit from active release therapy, consider booking an appointment with a physical therapist who specializes in this muscle release technique. Use the BetterPT website or download the app to find a physical therapist certified in active release treatment near you. Start your road toward recovery and a life free of pain today.

Dr. Marla Ranieri graduated from Stanford University with her bachelor's degree in Human Biology in 2005 and went on to receive her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2009. Marla has worked with all types of individuals, including professional athletes as part of the USA Gymnastics Medical Staff. Marla continues to treat patients with evidence-based medicine and the best quality of care.

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